In the Shade of the Quran (part 30)

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  • In the Shade of the Quran (part 30)

  • Surah 96 The Blood Clots al Alaq

    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.


    Read in the name of your Lord who created, created man from clot of blood. Read ! your Lord is the most Bounteous, Who has taught the use of the pen, has taught man what be did not know. Indeed, man tyrannises, once he thinks himself self sufficient. Surely to your Lord all things return. Observe the man who rebukes a servant of Allah when he prays! Think: does he not follow the right guidance and enjoin the piety? Think: if he denies the truth and turns his back, does he not realise that Allah sees all? Let him desists or We will drag him by the forelock, his lying, sinful forelock. Then let him call his henchmen. We will call the guards of Hell. No, never obey him, but prostrate yourself and draw closer to Allah.


    It is universally agreed that the opening of this surah was the first Qur'anic revelation. The accounts stating that other verses were revealed first are not authentic. Imam Ahmad transmits the following hadith attributing it to Aisha, the Prophet's wife:

    The first aspect of revelation to Allah's Messenger was that his dreams came true. Whatever vision he might have in his sleep would occur exactly as he had seen. Then, he began to enjoy seclusion. He used to retreat alone into the cave of Hira where he would spend several days in devotion before going back to his family. He used to take some food with him, and when he came back he would take a fresh supply for another period. He continued to do so until he received the truth while in the cave of Hira. The angel came to him and said, "Read." He replied, "I am not a reader." The Prophet says, "He held me and pressed hard until I was exhausted, then he released me and said, "Read." and I replied, "I am not a reader". So, he held me and pressed me hard a second time until I was exhausted, then he released me and said, "Read." I replied, "I am not a reader." He then held me and pressed me hard for the third time. Then he said, "Read, in the name of your Lord Who created, created man from clots of blood. Read! your Lord is the most bounteous, Who has taught the use of the pen, has taught man what he did not know." The Prophet returned home to Khadeeja trembling and said, "Wrap me! Wrap me!" They wrapped him and his fear subsided. He turned to Khadeeja and exclaimed, "What has happened to me?" and related to her what had hap pened and said, "I fear for myself." And Khadeeja replied, "Fear not, be calm and relax. Allah will not let you suffer any humilia tion, because you are kind to your relatives, you speak the truth, you assist anyone in need, you are hospitable to your guests and you help in every just cause." Then she took him to Waraqa ibn Nawfal, her paternal cousin who was a Christian convert and a scholar with good knowledge of Arabic, Hebrew and the Bible. He had lost his eyesight as he had grown very old. Khadeeja said to Waraqa, "Cousin, would you like to hear what your nephew has to say?" Waraqa said, "Well, nephew, what have you seen?" The Prophet related to him what he had seen. When he finished, Waraqa said, " It is the same revelation as was sent down to Moses. I wish I was a young man so that I might be alive when your people turn you away from this city." The Prophet exclaimed, "Would they turn me away?" Waraqa answered "Yes! No man has ever preached a message like yours but was met with enmity. If I live till that day, I will certainly give you all my support." But Waraqa died soon after that ...

    This hadith is transmitted in both of the most authentic books of the Prophet's traditions and was related by Al-Zuhri.

    Al-Tabari also transmitted the following tradition, related by Abdullah ibn Az-Zubair:

    The Prophet said, 'While I was asleep he came to me carrying a case of a very rich material in which there was a book. He said, 'Read.' I replied, 'I am not a reader.' He pressed me so hard that I felt I was about to die. Then he released me and said, 'Read.' I asked 'What shall I read?' (and I said this only out of fear that he might repeat what he had done to me before.) He said, 'Read: In the name of your Lord who created ... taught man what he did not know. ' I read it. He stopped, then left me and went away. I woke up feeling that it was actually written in my heart'." The Prophet went on to say, "No man was ever more loathsome to me than poets or deranged persons. I could not bear even looking at either. I thought, 'The man (meaning himself) is undoubtedly a poet or deranged. This shall not be said about me amongst the Quraish. Let me climb high up in the mountain and throw myself and get rid of it all.' I went to carry out this intention. When I was half way up in the mountain I heard a voice coming from the heavens saying, 'Muhammad, you are the Messenger of Allah and I am Jibril.' I raised my head up to the sky and I saw Jibril in the image of a man with his feet one next to the other, up on the horizon. He said again, 'Muhammad, you are the Messenger of Allah and I am Jibril.' I stood in my place looking up at him; this distracted me from my intention. I was standing there unable to move. I tried to turn my face away from him and to look up at the sky, but wherever I looked, I saw him in front of me. I stood still, moving neither forward nor backward. Khadeeja sent her messengers looking for me and I remained standing in my place all the while until they went back to her. He then left me and I went back to my family ...

    This tradition is also related in more details by Ibn Ishaq, on the authority of Wahb ibn Kayssan.

    I reflected for a while upon this event. We all have read it many times in books; either those of the Prophet's biography or those explaining the meaning of the Qur'an. But we either read it casually or gave it little thought and went on with our reading.

    Yet this is an event which has immense significance. It is an event which has important bearing on the life of humanity; but much as we try today to perceive its great value, many of its aspects will remain beyond our perception. It is no exaggeration to describe this event as the greatest in the long history of human existence.

    The true nature of this event is that Allah, the Great, the Compeller, the Almighty, the Supreme, the Sovereign of the whole universe, out of His benevolence, has turned to that creation of His which is called "man", and which takes its abode in a hardly visible corner of the universe, the name of which is the "Earth" . He has honoured this species of His creation by choosing one of its numbers to be the recipient of His Divine light and the guardian of His wisdom.

    This is something infinitely great. Some aspects of its greatness become apparent when man tries, as best as he can, to perceive the essential qualities of Allah: absolute power, freedom from all limitations and everlastingness; and when he reflects, in comparison, on the basic qualities of Allah's servants who arc subject to certain limitations of power and life duration. One may then perceive the significance of this Divine care for man. He may realise the sweetness of this feeling and manifest his appreciation with thanksgiving, prayers and devotion. He feels that the whole universe shares in the general happiness spread by the revelation of Divine words to man in his obscure corner of the universe.

    What is the significance of this event? With reference to Allah, it signifies that He is the source of all the great bounties and unfailing compassion. He is the Benevolent, the Loving, Who bestows His mercy and benefactions for no reason except that benevolence is one of His Divine attributes. As for man, this event signifies that Allah has bestowed on him an honour the greatness of which he can hardly ever appreciate and for which he can never show enough gratitude not even if he spends all his life in devotion and prostration. This honor is that Allah has taken notice and care of him, established contact with him and chosen one of the human race as His messenger to reveal to him His words that the earth, man's abode has become the recipient of these Divine words, which the whole universe echoes with submission and devotion.

    This great event began to bear on the life of humanity as a whole right from the first moment. It marked a change in the course of history, following the change it brought about in the course followed by human conscience. It specified the source man should look up to in order to derive his ideals, values and criteria. The source is heaven and the Divine revelations, not this world and man's own desires. When this great event took place the people who recognised its true nature and adapted their lives accordingly enjoyed Allah's protection and manifest care. They looked up to Him directly for guidance in all their affairs, big and small. They lived and moved under His supervision. They expected that He would guide them along the road, step by step, stopping them from error and leading them to the right. Every night they expected to receive some Divine revelations concerning what they had on their minds, providing solutions for their problems and saying to them, "Do this and leave that."

    The period which followed the event was certainly remarkable: twenty-three years of direct contact between the human race and the Highest Society. The true nature of this period cannot be recognised except by those who lived in that period and went through its experience, witnessed its start and its end, relished the sweet flavour of that contact and felt the Divine hand guiding them along the road. The distance which separates us from that reality is too great to be defined by any measure of length this world has known. It is a distance in the world of conscience incomparable to any distance in the material world, not even when we think of the gaps separating the stars or galaxies. It is a gap that separates the earth and the Heaven; a gap between human desires and Divine revelation as sources from which concepts and values are derived; a gap between Ignorance and Islam, the human and the Divine.

    The people who lived in that period were fully aware of its uniqueness, recognised its special place in history and felt the great loss when the Prophet passed away to be in the company of the Supreme Companion. This marked the end of this remarkable period which our minds can hardly imagine but for its actual occurrence.

    Anas related that Abu Bakr said to 'Umar after the death of the Prophet "Let us go to visit Umm Ayman as the Prophet used to do." When they went to her she burst into tears. They said, "What are you crying for? Don't you realise that Allah's company is far better for the Prophet?" She replied, "That is true, I am sure. I am only crying because revelation has ceased with his death." This made tears spring to their eyes and the three of them cried together. (Transmitted by Muslim).

    The impact of that period has been in evidence in the life of humanity ever since its beginning up to this moment, and it will remain in evidence until the day when Allah inherits the earth and all that walks on it. Man was reborn when he started to derive his values from Heaven rather than earth and his laws from the Divine revelation instead of his own desires. The course of history underwent a change the like of which has never been experienced before or since That event, the commencement of revelation, was the point at which the roads crossed. Clear and permanent guidelines were established which cannot be changed by the passage of time or effaced by events. Human conscience developed a concept of existence, human life and its values unsurpassed in comprehensiveness, clarity and purity of all worldly considerations as well as its realism and practicability in human society. The foundations of this Divine code have been firmly established in the world and its various aspects and essential standards have been made clear, "so that he who perishes may perish after having received a clear sign and he who lives may live after having received a clear sign. " (Al-Qur'an 8:42)

    The beginning of revelation was a unique event at a unique moment marking the end of one era and the start of another. It is the demarcation line in the history of mankind, not merely in the history of a certain nation or a particular generation. It has been recorded by the universe and echoed in all its corners. It has also been recorded in the conscience of man which today needs to be guided by what Allah has revealed and never to lose sight of it. It needs to remember that this event was a rebirth of humanity which can take place only once in history.

    It is self evident that the rest of the surah was not revealed at the same time as its opening but at a later date. For it refers to a certain situation and to events in the life of the Prophet which took place later, after he was instructed to convey his message and commanded to offer his worship in public, and after he was met with opposition by the polytheists. This is indicated in the part of the surah which begins: "Observe the man who rebukes a servant of Allah when he prays ..." Yet there is perfect harmony between all parts of the surah. The facts it relates after the opening part are also arranged in a perfect order. These two factors make the surah one perfectly harmonious unit.

    Read in the name of your Lord Who created, created man from clots of blood Read! your Lord is the most Bounteous, Who has taught the use of the pen, has taught man what he did not know.

    This is the first surah of the Qur'an so it starts with the name of Allah.' It instructs the Messenger of Allah right at the very firsf moment of his blessed contact with the Highest Society and before taking his very first step along the way of the message he was chosen to deliver, to read in the name of Allah, "Read in the name of your Lord." The first attribute of Allah it mentions is that of creation and initiation: "... your Lord Who created " Then it speaks in particular of the creation of man and his origin: "created man from clots of blood." He is created from a dried drop of blood which sticks to the womb: a cheap and unsophisticated substance. This reflects the grace and mercy of the Creator as much as it reflects His power. It is out of His grace that He has elevated this clot of blood to the rank of man who can be taught and who can learn: "Read! your Lord is the most Bounteous, Who has taught the use of the pen, has taught man what he did not know." The gulf between the origin and the outcome is very wide indeed. But Allah is Able and He is Bounteous, hence this change which makes us dizzy with wonder.

    Here also emerges the fact of the teaching of man by the Creator. The pen has always been the most widespread means of learning and it has always had the most far-reaching bearing on man's life. This fact was not as clear at the time of revelation as it is now. But Allah knows the value of the pen; hence, this reference to the pen at the bcginning of this His final message to humanity, in the first surah of the Qur'an. Yet the Messenger charged with the conveyance of this message could not write. Had the Qur'an been his own composition, he would not have stressed this fact at the first moment. But the Qur'an is Allah's revelation and a message from the Divine.

    The surah then states the source of learning, which is Allah. From Him man receives all his knowledge, past, present and future. From Him man learns any secret revealed to him about this universe, life and himself.

    This single paragraph revealed at the very first moment of the Messenger's contact with the Highest Society states the comprehensive basis of faith and its concepts. Everything starts, works and moves in His name. He is the One Who creates, originates and teaches Whatever man learns and whatever experience and knowledge he acquires come originally from Allah. He has taught man what he did not know. The Prophet recognised this basic Qur'anic fact. It governed his feelings teachings and actions for the rest of his life because it is the principal fact of faith.

    Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah summarises in his book "Zad al-Ma'ad" the Messenger's teaching respecting the remembrance of Allah:

    The Prophet was the most perfect man with regard to his remembrance of Allah, the Exalted. Indeed whatever he spoke was in the line of such remembrance. His commands, prohibitions, legislations, his teaching concerning the Lord and His attributes, judgements, actions, promises and threats were all part of this remembrance So were his praise and glorification of the Lord, his prayers to Him, his feelings of fear and hope of Him and even his silence. He was conscious of Allah at all times and in every state. His praise of Allah was part of his very nature as if he praised Him with every breath. Indeed he praised Him as he stood up, sat or reclined and when walking, riding, moving, at home or travelling. When he woke up he used to say, "Praise be to Allah Who has given us life after He had caused us to die. To Him we shall be resurrected." Aisha said that the Prophet used to say when he woke up at night, "Allah is the greatest," and would repeat it ten times. Then he would repeat ten times the statement, "There is no deity but Allah," and pray, "My Lord, I seek refuge with You against constraint in this life and on the Day of Resurrection," ten times. Then he would start his formal prayers. Aisha also said that when the Prophet woke up at night for his devotion he would say, "There is no God but You, my Lord. Praise be to You. I beseech You to forgive my sins and appeal to You for mercy. My Lord, enrich my knowledge and cause not my heart to go astray after You have granted me Your guidance. Grant me Your mercy, for You are the most Bounteous." (Transmitted by Abu Dawood)

    The Messenger has also taught us that whoever gets up at night and says, "There is no God but Allah alone; He has no partner; to Him belongs the Sovereignty and praise; He is able to do everything; all grace is His; Glorified be He; there is no deity but Allah; Allah is the greatest; no power can operate without His permission; He is the Great, the Supreme," and after this says, "My Lord, forgive me," or any other prayer, his prayers will be answered. Should he make ablution and offer prayers, these will be accepted.

    The Messenger once stayed for a night at Ibn Abbas's home. The latter related that when he, the Messenger, woke up he raised his hand to the sky and read the last ten verses of surah "Aal-'Imran. " Then he went on to pray, "My Lord, to You belongs all praise; You are the light of heaven and earth and all therein; Praise be to You, the true Lord; Your promise is true; whatever You say is true; the Meeting with You is true; Heaven is true; Hell is true; the Prophets are true; and the Hour is true. I submit myself to You, I believe in You and depend on You. To You I return . Any dispute I may enter into is for You. To You I turn for judgement. Forgive me all my sins, past and future, public and secret. You are my Lord and there is no God but You. No power can operate without the permission of Allah, the Great, the Supreme."

    Aisha related that when the Prophet woke up at night to worship he used to say, "My God, the Lord of Jibril, Mikaeel and Israfeel, the Creator of heaven and earth, Who knows what is concealed and what is made public. You judge amongst Your servants in their disputes. Guide me, with Your own will, to the truth over which people argue and dispute, for You guide whom You will to the straight path." She might have also said that he used to say this at the start of his prayers.

    After offering the "witr" prayer, the Messenger used to repeat three times, "Glorified be Allah, the Holy One." When he went out of his house he would say, "In the name of Allah. I depend on Allah. My Lord, I appeal to You to guard me against going astray or causing anyone to go astray, and against any slip, and being unjust to anyone or being victim to any injustice by others, and against acting ignorantly, or being ignorantly done by."

    The Messenger said, "Whoever says as he leaves his home, 'In the name of Allah. I depend on Allah. No power is operative without the permission of Allah,' he will receive the answer. 'You are rightly guarded and well protected,' and the devil will be made to turn away from him."

    Referring to the night when he was host to the Messenger, Ibn Abbas said that when the Messenger left for the mosque for the dawn prayers he said, "My Lord, give me light in my heart, tongue, ears and eyes: give me light in front of me, over me and below me and make the light You give me great."

    Abu Said al-Khudri related that the Prophet said, "When a man goes out to the mosque for prayers and says, 'My Lord, I appeal to You by the right of those who pray to You, and the right us my journey to You. I have not come out with any feeling of selfsufficiency, nor in hypocrisy or conceit, nor to seek reputation. I have come out with the hope of avoiding Your anger, seeking Your pleasure. I pray you, save me from Hell and forgive me my sins; You are the Only One Who forgives sins;' seventy thousand angels will be charged with praying for his forgiveness and Allah will receive and welcome him until he finishes his prayers."

    Abu Dawood transmitted that the Prophet used to say when he entered the mosque, "I seek refuge with Allah, the Great, and His Holy face, and His old power against Satan, the Outcast." When a man says this the Devil says, "He is now protected against me for the rest of the day."

    The Prophet said, "Whenever any of you comes to the mosque, let him pray and ask peace for the Prophet and say, 'My Lord, open to me the doors of your mercy.' When he leaves the mosque, let him say, 'My Lord, I pray You to give me out of Your grace.'" It is also related that when the Prophet entered the mosque, he would ask peace for Muhammad (himself) and his household, then he would say, "My Lord, forgive me my sins and open the doors of Your mercy to me." When he left, he would again ask peace for Muhammad and his household, and say, "My Lord, forgive me my sins and lay open to me the doors of Your grace." After offering the dawn prayers, Allah's Messenger used to stay in his praying place until sunrise, utilising his time in the remembrance of Allah, the Exalted. In the morning, he would say, "Our Lord, we have lived till this morning by Your will, and we also live till evening by Your will. We live and die by Your will. To You we will return." He also used to say, "Morning has appeared. This morning all sovereignty belongs to Allah, praised be He. There is no God but Allah alone. He has no partner, to Him belongs all the universe and to Him is all praise. He is the Almighty, able to do what He wills. My Lord, I pray to You to give me of the best of this day and the best of the days to follow. I seek refuge with You against the evil of this day and the days to follow. My Lord, I seek Your refuge against laziness and the evils of old age, against suffering in Hell and suffering in the grave." In the evening he would repeat the same prayer substituting evening for morning (Transmitted by Muslim).

    Once Abu Bakr, the Prophet's most distinguished companion said to him, "Teach me some prayers to say in the morning and in the evening." Allah's Messenger taught him the following prayer, "My Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth. Who knows the visible and the unseen, the perceptible and the imperceptible, the Lord and Possessor of all, I declare that there is no God but You. I appeal to You to protect me against my own evil and the evil of Satan; I seek Your refuge against doing myself any harm or causing harm to any Muslim." The Messenger told Abu Bakr to say this prayer in the morning, evening and before going to bed. (Zad al-Maad contains numerous traditions on the same subject.) ... When Allah's Messenger had a new garment, he would mention it by name (e.g. a shirt, a gown or a turban) and say, "My Lord, praise be to You. You have given me this. I pray You to give me its goodness and the goodness for which it was made. I pray to You to rid me of its evil and the evil for which it was made." The Messenger is reported to have been in the habit of saying the following prayer when he returned home, "Praise be to Allah who has given me this shelter and what is sufficient for me; and praise be to Allah Who has given me food and drink, and praise be to Allah Who has given me much (of His generosity). I pray You to extend Your protection to me against Hell.

    It is confirmed in the two authentic books of the Messenger's traditions that, when he entered the toilet, he used to say,

    My Lord, I pray You to rid me of evil things." When he left, he used to say, "Praise be to Allah Who has ridden me of harm and given me good health." (Transmitted by Ibn Majah).

    It is also confirmed that he once put his hand in a water container and said to his companions, "Make ablutions in the name of Allah." When he saw the new moon, he used to say, "My Lord, let it come to us with security, faith, safety and submission to You. New moon, Allah is my Lord and Your Lord." (Transmitted by At-Tirmithi).

    When he started eating, he used to say, "In the name of Allah." He also said, "When any of you eats, let him mention the name of Allah. If he forgets to do so, let him say (when he remembers), in the name of Allah at the beginning and at the end."

    Thus was the life of the Messenger of Allah. It was conditioned, down to every single detail, by the Divine instruction which he received at the very first moment of his message. This instruction helped his faith to bc established on a genuine basis .

    It is Allah, then, Who creates, teaches and bestows His abundant bounties on man. This implies that man should acknowledge Allah's benevolence and be grateful for it. But what actually happens is something different.

    The second part of the surah deals with man's transgression. "Indeed man tyrannises once he thinks himself self-sufficient. Surely to your Lord all things return." It is Allah Who gives to man in abundance and makes him independent. He also creates and teaches him and extends to him His generous treatment. But men in general (excluding those guarded by faith) are not thankful for their independence which is made possible by what they are given. They do not recognise the source of this grace, which is the same as the source of their creation, knowledge and livelihood. They tyrannise and transgress all limits and show their conceit instead of being dutiful and thankful.

    The portrait of the transgressor, conceited because he has forgotten his origin, is followed by a comment charged with an implicit warning, 'Surely to your Lord all things return." Where can this proud tyrant then turn? At the same time one or the fundamental rules of the Islamic ideological concept is emphasised. That is, all must refer to Allah in every matter, thought or action. he is the only reason and refuge. The good and the bad, the obedient and the sinner, the righteous and the wrong-doer, the rich and the poor, will all return to Him. Even the man who tyrannises when he thinks himself independent will come to Him eventually.

    Thus, the first two parts of the surah state together the ideological concept of Islam: creation and teaching belong to Allah alone and to Him all return: "Surely to your Lord all things return. "

    The third part tackles a particularly appalling form of tyranny. Its description in the inimitable Qur'anic style fills one with wonder and dismay that it should take place at all. "Observe the man who rebukes a servant of Allah when he prays. Think: does he not follow the right guidance and enjoin true piety? Think: if he denies the truth and turns his back, does he not realise that Allah sees all? "

    The feelings of wonder and dismay are aroused by the manner of expression which takes the form of address and conversation using short sentences that follow in rapid succession. The effect can hardly ever be produced by ordinary written language. "Observe" this ghastly business actually taking place! "Observe the man who rebukes a servant of Allah when he prays. " Have you seen this repulsive sight? Have you realised how repugnance is doubled by the fact that the person being dissuaded from his prayers is in fact following Divine guidance. He merely enjoins righteousness and piety, yet he is discouraged and told to desist!

    Yet the transgressor outdoes himself by taking a still more abhorent stand, Think: "if he denies the truth and turns his back." The closing note is one of implicit warning, similar to that of the previous paragraph, "Does he not realise that Allah sees all? " He sees everything: the denial of truth, the turning away from it, as well as the forbidding of the believers from offering their prayers. Since Allah sees all there is something which follows His seeing. This is the implicit warning.

    Thus, we have a scene of tyranny trying to suppress the call of faith and obedience to Allah which is followed immediately by a stern warning stated explicitly this time, "Let him desist, or We will drag him by the forelock. " The Arabic term used for "drag" has a marked tone of violent action. The dragging is by the forelock as it is the part of the head raised high by every conceited tyrant. It undoubtedly deserves to be hit violently: 'His lying, sinful forelock!" The tyrant may think of calling his clan and supporters to come to his aid: " Then let him call his henchmen. " On the other side, " We will call the guards of hell," and they are powerfull and ruthless. The outcome of the battle is never in doubt.

    In the light of this frightening destiny of the disbelievers, the surah concludes with an instruction to the obedient servants of Allah to persevere and follow the path of faith: "No, never obey him, but prostrate yourself and draw closer to Allah. " Do not obey this tyrant who tries to stop you from offering your devotion and conveying your message. Prostrate yourself to your Lord and bring yourself closer to Him through worship and obedience. As for the tyrant, leave him to the guards of Hell who are sure to mete out to him what he deserves.

    Some authentic reports say that the surah, with the exception of the first part, refers to Abu Jahl who once passed bv the Prophet while he was praying at the Ka'aba. He turned to him and said, "Muhammad, have I not ordered you to stop these practices?" He also added some warnings to the Prophet who gave him a stern reply. This was possibly the time when the Prophet seized Abu Jahl by the collar and warned him of his impending doom. Abu Jahl said, "Muhammad, what do you threaten me with? I am sure I have the largest following in this valley." Hence, the revelation, "Let him call his henchmen. " Ibn Abbas, the Prophet's companion, said in comment "Had he called them, the angels charged with meting out punishment would have taken him away there and then."

    The surah, however, is general in its significance. It refers to every obedient believer calling men to follow the path of Allah and to every tyrant who forbids prayer, threatens to punish the believers and act conceitedly. The concluding Divine instruction is therefore, "No, never obey him, but prostrate yourself and draw closer to Allah. "

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